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Organic Consumers Association

All Things Healing Interviews OCA's Ryan Zinn

Michelle Gregg, ATH Senior Editor: Hello All Things Healing readers and listeners. Thanks so much for joining us for another exclusive ATH interview. Today we have "A Conversation With...Ryan Zinn." Ryan is the Campaign Director for the Organic Consumers Association and he's spent the last 15 years working in the sustainable food and farming movement. His work has taken him throughout Latin America and the United States. He's been involved with the Center for International Law, Friends of the Earth - Paraguay, Global Exchange, and now the Organic Consumers Association.

So just a little bit about the Organic Consumers Association: they're a grassroots nonprofit campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, fair trade, and environment sustainability, among many other very relevant issues and they're the only organization in the U.S. focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of our nation's estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers. So this is a really big deal and these are really big issues.

Interviewing Ryan is Susan Lutz, and she's been with ATH for over a year. She's our wonderful editor of the Organic Living page. Susan lives in Costa Rica with her two children and she's been there for the past 13 years. She says it's like living in paradise -- which is wonderful! Susan recently created a documentary film called The Coffee Dance: Planting Seeds of Empowerment and this is a film that's relevant to today's conversation because it focuses on a group of very poor women in Costa Rica who worked via theater to form a program that educates migrant coffee workers about the dangers of breast cancer, which is the result of the very high use of pesticides on coffee crops there. Probably unknown to most of us in the U.S. is that there is a very high incidence of breast and cervical cancer among women who pick coffee. So that said, welcome to you Ryan and Susan. Thanks so much for being here!

Ryan Zinn, Campaign Director for the Organic Consumers Association: Thank you.

Susan Lutz, ATH Editor of Organic Living: Thank you.

Michelle: You two are welcome to get started

Susan: Okay. Welcome Ryan to All Things Healing. How are you doing today?

Ryan: Very good Susan. Thank you very much.

Susan: Good. Ryan, the Organic Consumers Organization, or as it is abbreviated -- OCA -- is a nonprofit organization. It's a grassroots organization and it promotes a worldwide movement to educate and change the policy of how we treat food, how we treat the planet and ourselves. Ryan, could you explain how that original spark formed the OCA and what mission it is coming to embrace today?

Ryan: Well Susan, really about 15 years ago what was happening, at the national level of the United States, the federal government was coming up with a standard for organic food and farming. The first draft -- so-to-speak -- of this standard (which was later to become the National Organic Program) included everything from genetically-engineered crops, antibiotics, sewage sludge, and a whole host of other things that most people would not consider to be organic. And as a result of that, really almost 300,000 mostly consumers, but also farmers, retailers, and everybody in between -- had this huge outpouring of support for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to organic food and farming. And out of that huge outpouring, the Organic Consumers was born. And since then, we've begun to focus on being both a promoter and a watchdog for organic standards. Also we're really trying to educate and activate consumers to take a look at the food system from start to finish - to make sure that not only the food that you're eating is free from pesticides and is grown in a very healthy way for both humans and the environment, but in a way that also represents and respects workers throughout the food chain and really look for ways to democratize the food supply because, as you can imagine, right now we have a food supply that is not only unsafe, but is also very -- you know -- unjust for many people. Not many people have access to fair and unhealthy food.

Susan: I can't imagine what it was like to have started the OCA and then get to where you are today. And it's really interesting to see that the OCA works in areas that are really not considered organic. For example, the word "organic" is used when we think of body care and when we think of food, and when we think of cleaners for our home. But why does the OCA -- as you mentioned -- include things such as fair trade, economic fairness, how people are treated when they are working with crops, healthcare, and energy resources within its work?

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